Category Archives: 2010

Why Inception Has Nothing Interesting To Say

inception_lg.jpgThe past week or so has seen me obsessively read and listen to various film critics’ Films of 2010. One of the films that is appearing on almost everyone’s list is Inception. However, my belief is that it is not the best film of 2010, not by a long way.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Spoilers for Inception ahead:

To start out, it’s important to say Inception is a film flawless in its execution of its world. The way it introduces us to the rules and intricacies of its universe was incredibly clever, and forced the audience to really pay attention to everything going on around them.

However, the film has nothing interesting to say.

It’s been six months since its release and having considered everything that happens in the film, this is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Inception has nothing interesting to say about dreams. A film like Science of Sleep was a much better reflection on dreams, the way we dream, and how they influence the way we see reality. Inception’s dreams merely change gravity or landscapes. As such, the film is a pale reflection on the way we dream or what we dream about.

It has nothing interesting to say about our relationship with dreams. The film’s central character, Cobb, was at one point lost in a dreamworld with his wife. He escapes and goes back to reality, but his wife still believes she is dreaming. What the film seems to say is that believing in dreams too hard is bad, we need to live in reality. Really?

The film has nothing interesting to say about ‘inception’. The idea of changing someone’s mind without them realising it is interesting. However, what the central characters actually do to Cillian Murphy is not. Changing his mind regarding something very specific and morally inconsequential (breaking up his family business).

Inception has nothing interesting to say about reality. What annoyed me most about the movie, and is ultimately my main issue with it, is the ending. The decision to make the reality we saw a possible dreamworld was stupid, pointless and only there to make the audience gasp before the credits rolled.

The problem is that everything in the film that happens is so far-fetched and dreamlike (whether in reality or dreamworlds) that trying to figure out whether the whole film is a dream or not is an entirely pointless endeavour.

Now, some of you will point out I’m being a little harsh. And I would fully take that criticism aboard. However, what Inception represents is a recent shift in American cinema towards these films with very intricate, clever plots but with little to no message under-riding them.

It started with films like The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense in the nineties, and has continued with films like The Departed and Inception since then.

These films undoubtedly impress audiences with their ability to weave intricate, complex plots. However, the experience of watching them is rather like solving a Rubik’s Cube or Sudoku puzzle. You feel smart and awesome for having figured everything out, but learn little about life or what it means to be human.

What does the film actually say about relationships, the human psyche, or philosophy? It’s important we don’t mistake the creation of an intricate puzzle for actually saying something interesting. That is what I fear many critics and audience members have done with Inception.

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The Top Five Movies of 2010

Those of you who’ve listened to this month’s podcast will already know the result of my Top Five Movies of 2010. Nevertheless, I thought I’d include it in text form for those of you who prefer the written word to its spoken cousin.

5. A Single Man

It is Colin Firth, rather than Jeff Bridges, who should have won the Best Actor accolade at the oscars this year. His role as George completely captivated me throughout Tom Ford’s directorial debut.

As he deals with the grief of losing his soulmate, we gasp at the beauty of the cinematography in the frame, while sympathising with the ugliness of the situation Firth has found himself in.

The supporting cast of Julianne Moore and Jamie Bell are equally important, as they attempt to give some comfort to the grief-stricken Firth.

There’s also an attention to detail mirrored in both its main character and the filmmaking that allows us to be enchanted by A Single Man from start to finish.

Winters-Bone-poster.jpg4. Winter’s Bone

Another film with an incredibly strong central performance. This one sees the seventeen year old Bree (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to make sure her family doesn’t lose her home, after her drug-dealing father doesn’t turn up for his court appearance.

Set in the stark, cold, Ozarks, it’s a film with a real sense of place. Aside from the beautifully captured environment, it also gives you a real sense of the community Bree must negotiate to get justice for her family.

This community has its own moral code, its own way of doing things. As she explores it, we as an audience take that journey with her. All of which culminates to give us haunting, beautiful fable sure to earn its lead an oscar nod.

socialnetworkposter.jpg3. The Social Network

Aaron Sorkin’s use of dialogue is second to none in his generation. And that is surely proven with this, his latest project. A film about geeks, court cases, and coding has no right to be entertaining. Yet you never doubt its appeal because of the way Sorkin presents the subject matter.

Words burst and fizzle across the screen similar to the manner of a shoot-out in a Western. Statements and phrases attempting to land the killer blow in almost every scene. It really is a masterclass in writing.

Of course making an entertaining, smart script means nothing if you haven’t got anything to say by the end of it. Thankfully a story about the birth of the most important communication tool over the last decade has no such problem.

As we see the underhanded methods Zuckerberg used to set-up Facebook, we are forced to take sides, consider moral questions, and question how our own views on privacy and friendship have changed since joining our own online social network. A film very much ‘of our time’.

Another-Year.jpg2. Another Year

The only British film on the list tells the story of a settled, contented husband and wife, and their unsettled, dissatisfied friends.

It’s a film which takes place over the course of a year. Showing us one weekend from each of the four seasons. As we move between the times of year, Leigh uses colour filters to bring out the greens of Spring and the harsh greys of Winter.

It’s also a film which takes its time to introduce us to people and their nature. All the information comes very naturally from conversations, and like all of Leigh films, getting to know them is more akin to getting to know friends than characters in films.

Each character has a great sense of self, which makes them both believable and relatable. Ultimately this is quite a sad film. Its title, Another Year, represents a melancholy to the process of growing older and spending an extra twelve months on this earth.

What we experience over the year with the characters, however, has a grounding in reality few films are able to achieve. Leigh, as always, capturing something of human nature in a way few directors can.

movie_10230_extra_poster_0.jpg1. Of Gods and Men

A story of a community of French Monks living in Algeria may seem like a strange choice for Film of the Year.

The movie tells the true story of eight monks who are living peacefully in a small village with the Muslim community around them.

However, their way of life is put tot he test by Islamic terrorists who visit them during the night and make it clear they’re not welcome. The Monks have a choice, to stay and complete their ‘calling’ or leave with their lives still intact.

It’s a movie directed by an atheist yet with a strong sense of the spiritual to it. The director chooses to fully engross the audience in its small community of monks. As we attend services, tend the garden, and treat the sick, we gradually get a very real sense of the kind lives these men lead.

Perhaps this is best summed up by a scene in which the monks share a meal together; the theme from Swan Lake playing in the background. As the camera cuts from face to face to face, we see the emotion of the music unlocking a real and tangible humanity in each of the monks.

The movie as a whole gave me such a fresh and unexpected experience that I feel it is more than deserving of The Film of 2010.

For some differing opinions of the Top Five Movies of 2010, you can listen to this months podcast, where my co-hosts Dave, Steve and Laura give their picks:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8634900/ObserveALot6.mp3

2010: A Year in Film

As is traditional at this time of year, I will write up my Top Five Movies of the Year very soon. For those of you who have ears, however, you can find out my five choices right now by listening to this month’s podcast:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8634900/ObserveALot6.mp3

2010.jpg2010: A Year In Film
So 2010. It happened. Why not put your feet up, relax, and let me take you on a little journey through the last twelve months of the world we call film?

The year ended as it began – with Avatar. The impact of which we’re still yet to fully come to terms with at the end of 2010. It led to distributors quickly jumping on the 3D bandwagon, regardless of the quality of the 3D they had created for viewers.

For the most part audiences seemed willing to buy it: Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3 being the highest grossing movies released this year. Also, despite the makers of Clash of the Titians and The Last Airbender retroactively adding inferior 3D to their films, they still went on to be pretty popular with the cinema going public.

However, the decision by Warner not to retroactively 3D-ify Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One signals at least some discernment on the part of studios regarding inferior 3D versions of their films.

As is always the case in January and February, the UK release schedule was full of oscar bait. Only 2010 saw a somewhat sparser number of “oscanated” movies to choose from. Perhaps best represented by the fact the two big favourites were The Hurt Locker and Avatar, both of which were released in the UK in 2009.

We did get a few gems like Up in the Air, A Single Man, A Prophet and to a lesser extent Precious. However, the number of ‘must-see’ films in the run up to oscar season certainly tailed off in 2010 in comparison to previous years.

The run up to summer saw the release of Iron Man 2. A film which seemed overcome by its place within the eventual Avengers storyline. The decision to have characters from four separate movies (Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America) is an interesting gamble on the part of Marvel Studios. It relies on fans enjoying every single film in the franchise so they’ll be as excited as possible in seeing them all team up in The Avengers. If all the films are so full of set-up as Iron Man 2, my fear is that we’ll be more relieved than pumped up for the movie that brings all these iconic characters together.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival made the last two weeks of June the busiest of my film calendar. The decision to try and write a review for all fifteen films I managed to catch, giving me some sort of insight into the doggedness of professional film critics.

My favourite films from the fest included Monsters, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone and The Oath. More generally, the unadulterated pleasure of seeing so many new movies in such a sort space of time was easily the year’s highlight.

July saw the release of Inception. A movie I described on the podcast as This Decade’s Matrix. By that I mean, it’s combination of special effects, science fiction and smart ideas showing Christopher Nolan is not just an adapter of franchises, but a creator of them as well.

My most anticipated film of the year, came in August, Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. On the podcast, I said this felt like a film created just for me. Unfortunately, its box office performance suggests there aren’t enough people like me out there. Both it and Kick Ass‘ disappointing takings casting into doubt the market for movies so heavily targeted at geeks.

Autumn saw a pleasantly surprising end to the year, with a lot of this year’s festival favourites getting their UK wide release. Sundance films Cyrus, Buried, The Kids Are All Right, and Catfish all giving us the type of well-realised characters and storylines we have come to associate with the festival.

Add to that movies such as I’m Still Here, Easy A, The Social Network, Another Year, The American, and Of Gods and Men, and I think it’s fair to say the last months of 2010 gave us most of its best films.

So 2010 then. The year we got used to 3D. The year a female director finally won an oscar. The year we said goodbye to Woody, Buzz and Andy. The year we got taught how to dream within dreams. And the year the slickest, coolest film was about a geek and some court cases.

Podcast – Santa Claus Conquers the Top Five Movies of 2010

podcast.jpgIn this very special Christmas episode, Mark Davidson, Laura Croft, Steve O’Hara and Dave Wark continue on their quest to find the Best Worst Movie of All Time with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians; discuss their favourite Christmas films; and reveal their highly anticipated Top Five Films 2010.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8634900/ObserveALot6.mp3
To save onto your computer, right click and go to “Save Target As..”

The Podcast is sponsored by LoveFilm: a DVD & BluRay rental service.
To get your 30 day free trial go to:
http://bit.ly/lovefilmtrial

Running Order:
Total Duration: 53 Minutes

Favourite Christmas Movies

Best Worst Movie – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Top Five Films of 2010

You can contact the podcast via observealot(at)gmail(dot)com

You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/you-can-observe-lot-just-by/id381134908#iTunes

Special Features
As a gift to people who read the blog, as oppose to just subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, here’s some stuff on the interweb relating to this month’s podcast:

Here’s the trailer for this month’s Best Worst Movie, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians:

Since the film is quite old, it’s in the public domain. This means you can watch it in its entirety via this link:

http://www.archive.org/details/santa_claus_conquers_the_martians

Altogether now:
S-A-N-T-A C-L-A-U-S
Hooray for Santy Claus!

You can also look at Mark’s previous Top Five Films of:
2007, 2008, 2009

Your Thoughts
Finally, it’d be great if you could share your Top Five Films of 2010 in the comments section below. Do you agree with our list? Were there any glaring omissions from this year in film?

Edinburgh International Film Festival – My Top Five Picks

Yesterday the schedule for The Edinburgh International Film Festival was announced. We already knew The Illusionist, from the creators of Belleville Rendez-vous, was going to open the event and that Toy Story 3 would play in Edinburgh the day after its world premiere on 18th June.

However, yesterday was the day we found out about the other 131 movies that will feature at this year’s festival. Tickets go on sale on 3rd June at 12 noon. I’ve picked out five I think you should look out for:

Mr Nice
Directed by Bernard Rose

Based on Howard Marks’ autobigraphy, Mr Nice tells the tale of the Oxford graduate turned drugs smuggler, played by Rhys Ifans. Along the way he gets involved with the IRA, Mafia and wanted by the DEA. Expect a mix of comedy and action as we see the enigmatic Marks talk his way in and out of perilous situations:


Mr Nice Trailer

The Secret in Their Eyes
Directed by Juan José Campanella

El Secreto de Sus Ojos 02.JPGFrom Argentina comes the winner of this year’s “Best Foreign Language Film” at the oscars. It’s set in 1999, but features flashbacks to 25 years earlier, as our protagonist tries to piece together a case that has haunted him for decades: the rape and murder of a young woman in 1974. Pitched as part murder-mystery, part romance, this one is definitely a must see for any film aficionado.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Directed by Werner Herzog

“Produced by David Lynch and Directed by Werner Herzog” should be enough to convince most film fans to go and see this one. Marketed as “Inspired by a true story” (the most misleading statement known to man BTW – what film is not inspired by at least one true story?), Herzog describes it as “a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore”. Although certainly from the trailer, it looks more like a psychological thriller than a fright-fest….


My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Trailer

The Extra Man
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

extra man 04.jpgPossibly the most star-studded of this year’s films, The Extra Man sees Paul Dano, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes and Kevin Kline join directors Berman and Pulicini (American Splendour) for a film that sees Kline take young playwright Dano under his wing. It seems this has the type of indie sense of humour one might associate with Wes Anderson, and its unsurprising that this made its debut at Sundance: a festival renowned for such quirky indie hits. I for one am a huge fan of movies of this ilk, and can’t wait to see Dano in a role supposedly markedly different from both There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine.

Third Star
Directed by Hattie Dalton

THIRD STAR.jpgRounding off this year’s fest comes Third Star, a British bromance/road-trip movie. Combining the type of comedy and emotion of something like Cemetery Junction, it features four friends going on what they hope will be a relaxing trip away, but practical difficulties and emotional revelations inevitably get in the way of such notions. The festival has put a lot of confidence in the movie by putting putting it in as the closing night gala, here’s hoping its World Premiere doesn’t disappoint.

The Edinburgh Film Festival runs from 16th until 27th June. Tickets can be booked in advance on the website: http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/

Edinburgh Film Festival – Here I Come

EIFF logo black mono.jpgI recently received an email confirming that I’ve been accepted as a member of the press for the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

This is great news since it’ll mean I’m able to see and review lots of fantastic films before they get their national release, as well as attending some press conferences, and potentially getting exclusive interviews with the cast and crew of this year’s most exciting movies.

Obviously, you’ll hear about exactly what I’ve seen or who I’ve met on this very site. As such, expect updates on a daily basis during the festival which runs from the 16th-27th June.

The programme is released on the 1st June, so I’ll do my best to pick out the highlights before the box office for the festival opens on the 3rd June.

In the meantime, you can check out the trailer for the festival at http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/gallery/videos/eiff-tv/120

Top 5 Most Anticipated Movies of 2010

Another day, another top five. This time it’s about movies not yet released. This list, unlike the others, is very much my inner fanboy coming out to play. I have no idea what the quality of these movies will be, but I do know the excitement I feel when thinking about their release.

5. Inception
This film is directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Prestige, Memento) so it makes the list for that reason alone. The plot isn’t that clear as yet, but its tagline: “Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime” implies this will be a psychological thriller where it’s not always clear what reality is. It also makes me think Nolan will also exploring the true intent of his characters’ actions: the strongest theme in his work to date.
I’ll let you try and make sense of the trailer:

4. Kick Ass
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who worked with Guy Ritchie on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels then Snatch before going on to direct Layer Cake and the excellent Stardust by himself. Kick-Ass concerns a group of have-a-go-superheroes without any actual superpowers. Among them is the incredibly violent Hit-Girl: played by twelve-year old Chloe Moretz. I think you get a good sense of the mix of violence and humour from the pre-watershed trailer:

As well as the 18-rated post-watershed trailer which introduces you to Hit-Girl, and as such contains very strong language, so NSFW:

3. Up in The Air
I spoke last week about my love for the trailer of this movie. Having listened to the film’s director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno) talk about this project, as well as film critics in America, I can’t wait to see it. George Clooney plays a character who’s job it is to fire people. He spends most of his life in hotel rooms and airports doing his best to make connections, so long as they aren’t human. Zing! – One day I will write trailer monologues:

In a world of connections, Ryan is doing his make to make some – cut to him making a flight – and avoid others – cut to him making excuse after leaving a woman in a hotel room.

Thankfully they didn’t hire me to do the trailer, and made this wonderful one instead:

2. Toy Story 3
I’ve heard Toy Story 1 & 2 described as “The Godfather” of animated movies: an amazing first feature followed by an even better sequel. Here’s hoping the third one doesn’t turn out to be like the ill-judged Godfather Part 3 then. The film opens with Andy going off to college, so the toys are taken to a day-care centre. Once there, the unbridled chaos of dozens of little toddlers leads them to plot their escape. Pixar’s last three movies have all been in my top five of their respective years. They’ve succeeded, because unlike the Shreks of the animated world, they realise that making adult-friendly films goes beyond making smutty jokes that go over kids heads (Do you think he’s maybe compensating for something?). It’s about story. Here’s the trailer:

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim is based on a comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and directed by Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). It tells the story of 23-year-old Scott Pilgrim who’s in the post-uni, pre-work stage of life. His life changes when he meets Ramona Flowers, literally the girl of his dreams. Mixing action, music and pop-culture references, this is one of my favourite comics ever. I’m super-excited about seeing the film, which stars Michael Cera as the lead, and also includes a grown-up Kieran Culkin as his totally platonic gay-bedmate.
There’s no trailer for the movie yet, so you’ll have to make do with Edgar Wright’s description of the film, interspersed with sword-fighting from the cast: